Hot, Hot, Hot? Be Sure Your PC Is Not

People gather to cool off in the Plaza de Cesar Chavez fountain in downtown San Jose, Calif., Monday, July 24, 2006, on the eighth day of an often triple-digit heat wave.
I'm hoping the heat wave ends by the time you read this and I'm also hoping I can get through this column before my PC crashes.

I live near San Jose, California where the mercury has been hovering near 100 degrees and I have a state-of-the-art PC with a very fast and very hot processor.

Because of the heat, my PC has crashed several times over the past few days. Normally it works fine, but when you combine the heat generated by the processor with the triple digit temperatures in my home office – equipped with everything but an air-conditioner - it's a recipe for disaster.

When it does crash, the machine simply turns itself off and when it comes back, a notice appears saying it was shut down due to a "thermal event." So far, nothing terrible has occurred other than losing whatever data I may have created since saving (I've learned to save often, so it's never a big deal).

One solution is to open up the case to dissipate the heat but there is some controversy over this method. First, it makes the machine more vulnerable to dust or damage and there are some who argue that a well-made case with a good fan will actually keep the components cooler than an open case.

I'm not a thermal engineer, so I don't have the answer to that one, but what seems to work is leaving the case open with a small desk fan blowing directly onto the system board. It's not the most elegant solution, but it will hopefully get me through the heat wave. If you do this, be very careful to avoid damaging any parts inside your machine.

Other solutions including installing more powerful fans or even a PC cooling system like Waffer PC AirCon PAC 400, which consists of a fan, aluminum heat sinks and a microprocessor to monitor and controls CPU temperature. Also, be sure there is no air-clogging dust on any of the machine's vents. If so, use canned air to blow out the dust.

Of course another solution would be to cool down the entire room but short of installing an air-conditioning system, I'm having trouble doing that.

Even if your PC doesn't overheat, it is generating heat and using electricity while it's running, so one thing you can do to cool down your home and save power is to turn off PCs and other electronics while they're not being used. Another option is to force your computers into "suspend" or sleep mode, which cuts way down on power consumption and heat.

A hot summer is also the time when power is most likely to fail and if that happens, your PC, your Internet connection and in some cases, your phone, may fail.

An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) can keep a PC running for a short period of time if the power fails but even a low-cost UPS like the $60 APC PC BACK-UPS ES 8 Outlet 500VA – designed to keep a PC running for 16 minutes -- will keep a router and cable modem going for considerably longer because those devices don't use nearly as much electricity as a PC.

Xantrex makes an entire line of battery-powered backup devices,,including the XPower Powerpack 600HD ($170), which is billed as capable of running 600 watts worth of equipment for up to eight hours. I haven't tried this unit, but I own an older model Xantrex system that works great.

When it comes to phones, I highly recommend that everyone have at least one standard phone line with a corded phone that doesn't require power. Failing this, make sure you have a fully charged cell phone. If you have a cordless phone that, just like an Internet phone, should be connected to a UPS in case of a power failure.

If all else fails, turn off your equipment and go find a nice cool place to hang out. If you have a laptop and a cell phone you can still get your work done. If not – well, even better: take some time off.

A syndicated technology columnist for over two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid